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Truth and Reconciliation Walk Brings Attention to Residential School Survivors

A father and son are walking side-by-side for the third time to raise awareness of what happened to students in residential schools
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A father and son are once again taking part in a lengthy walk to raise awareness of the impacts that residential schools continue to have on survivors and their family members.

Patrick Etherington Sr. and his son Patrick Etherington Jr. are members of the Truth and Reconciliation Walkers. They are currently on a 200-mile walk through Ontario, from North Bay to Toronto.

The duo started their journey on May 23 in North Bay. They were hoping to arrive in Toronto 10–11 days later, in time to attend a Truth and Reconciliation Intergenerational Regional Gathering that runs from May 31 through June 2. For the duo, who are Cree and from Ontario's Fort Albany First Nation, this marks the third consecutive year they have taken part in an awareness-raising walk.

During their first walk, in 2010, they were joined by three others as they embarked on the 870-mile journey from Cochrane, Ontario, to Winnipeg, Manitoba. And last year they were joined by five others as they walked about 1,400 miles, from Cochrane to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to attend a Truth and Reconciliation Commission national event.

The Etheringtons, aged 56 and 28, were the only ones who started this year's walk. They were hoping others would join them along the way. The younger Etherington wasn't buying into the suggestion that this year's trek will be relatively easy, even though it is a much shorter distance than previous events.

"It's always hard, but it's just not going to be as long this year," he said. "The walking part is still the same. It's still hot out there. And we're still getting blisters."

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The elder Etherington is a residential school survivor himself. Even his own son doesn't know too many details about that experience, and he said he himself has been enlightened through the walks the past few years.

"During our first walk to Winnipeg I didn't even really know what residential schools were about," Etherington Jr. said. "(My father) never really talked about it."

During their 2011 event, walkers were met by numerous residential school survivors along the route.

"Last year's walk was way deeper," Etherington Jr. said. "It was very rough emotionally. I knew more about it and started asking a lot of questions."

Etherington Sr. is glad he'll be walking to Canada's largest city.

"To me Toronto is a big city that has a lot of potential to talk about this delicate issue," he said. "Things are being done. But to me the impact is not being taken to the full extent it should be."